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Kant and the Concept of Community ed. by Charlton Payne, Lucas Thorpe (review)

From: Goethe Yearbook
Volume 20, 2013
pp. 273-275 | 10.1353/gyr.2013.0004

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Charlton Payne and Lucas Thorpe, eds., Kant and the Concept of Community. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011. 321 pp.

Kant and the Concept of Community, edited by Charlton Payne and Lucas Thorpe, gathers together some of the best-known figures in contemporary Kant scholarship. This fine collection traces Kant’s concept of community from its precritical roots to its role in The Critique of Pure Reason, before going on to investigate the subsequent transformations it would undergo in Kant’s later works on ethics, religion, history, politics, and aesthetics. With very few exceptions, all of the essays in this collection are interesting and informative, with signature pieces by Béatrice Longuenesse, Paul Guyer, Allen Wood, Onora O’Neill, and Susan Shell. This is a highly recommended collection suitable for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals.

The starting point for this collection lies in the table of categories provided by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787, 2nd ed.). Here, in the so-called [End Page 273] first Critique, Kant had described twelve categories that he took to be lying at the heart of the processes making up mental cognition. Under the title “Relation,” were three of the twelve categories listed: substance and accident, cause and effect, and community (Gemeinschaft). Kant’s understanding of community in this case was connected to its logical basis as a disjunctive judgment, where disjunction was taken to be a mental act of dynamic reciprocity. When faced with an either/or decision, in other words, the nonchosen object remained an active participant in the logical judgment, according to Kant, insofar as its negation was necessary for the chosen object to be simultaneously determined as the reciprocally positive choice. This formed the background for Kant’s added description of community as “reciprocity (Wechselwirkung) between agent and patient” (A80/B106). Assuming this part of Kant’s argument was clear enough, however, things became decidedly murky once Kant took on the task of explaining how the category of community worked when applied to judgments of experience. For it certainly was not clear to many of his commentators, for example, why our perceptual judgments regarding simultaneously existing objects should rely necessarily on our judging those objects to be related in a state of reciprocal determination: I could see the moon, for example, and shifting my gaze I could see the field below it, but why was there a necessary reciprocity between the perceived moon-object and the perceived field-object in that event? With these and other complaints in the air, Kant’s discussion of community languished in the pile of other arguments deemed wanting in comparison to the best moments of the first Critique. Adding to this dismissal, moreover, was a general awareness of the many places where Kant separately discussed religious, moral, and political communities—not to mention the important role played by the sensus communis in his work on aesthetics, the Critique of Judgment (1790)—without any obvious attempt on his part to connect these discussions to the original account of community as something logically identifiable with reciprocal determination. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to see that there has been little interest among scholars in investigating possible threads of continuity between the original account and the rest of Kant’s work. This, however, is precisely what the editors of Kant and the Concept of Community attempt to redress with the essays in their collection.

Given the aims set forth by Payne and Thorpe, it is clear that the first task will be some sort of attempt at rehabilitation with respect to Kant’s original discussion of community in the Critique of Pure Reason. The first two pieces, by Longuenesse and Watkins, take up this challenge, with Longuenesse essentially elaborating a line of argumentation first developed by her in Kant and the Capacity to Judge (Princeton UP, 1998). Longuenesse admits that her interest in the concept of community lies in the fact that it is the most difficult of Kant’s arguments to defend, before going on to attempt this defense by showing how Kant relied on the other categories of relation when establishing his proof. Watkins’s strategy...